Let’s begin this with a small writing lesson by Frank L. Visco, published in the June 1986 issue of Writers’ digest, these rules hold true even today. Follow them, and you should be good with writing masterpieces.
O si villi, si ergo, fortibus es in ero.
Et tu, brute
HOW TO WRITE GOOD
by Frank L. Visco
My several years in the word game have taught me several rules:
- Avoid alliteration. Always.
- Prepositions are not words to end sentences with.
- Avoid clichés like the plague. (They’re old hat.)
- Employ the vernacular.
- Eschew ampersands & abbreviations, etc.
- Parenthetical remarks (however relevant) are unnecessary.
- It is wrong to ever split an infinitive.
- Contractions aren’t necessary.
- Foreign words and phrases are not apropos.
- One should never generalize.
- Eliminate quotations. As Ralph Waldo Emerson once said: “I hate quotations. Tell me what you know.”
- Comparisons are as bad as clichés.
- Don’t be redundant; don’t use more words than necessary; it’s highly superfluous.
- Profanity sucks.
- Be more or less specific.
- Understatement is always best.
- Exaggeration is a billion times worse than understatement.
- One-word sentences? Eliminate.
- Analogies in writing are like feathers on a snake.
- The passive voice is to be avoided.
- Go around the barn at high noon to avoid colloquialisms.
- Even if a mixed metaphor sings, it should be derailed.
- Who needs rhetorical questions?
A doctor could come up to you and say ‘eat right and stay healthy’. But does that help? Except for making you feel slightly guilty when you bite into the next cheesecake, not really. Same is the case with all these tips on writing better. To actually change what you do, you need to understand why you do it. Let’s add to the flood of writing tips, but this time with some helpful additions:
Why you do what you do: It’s easier to type than to edit.
Why write shorter: Readers are impatient.
How: Edit. Delete your “warming up” text and start with the main point. Cull details and repetitions.
Use Shorter Sentences
Why you do what you do: New ideas keep occurring as you write and you think longer sentences are more sophisticated.
Why use shorter sentences: Longer sentences confuse the meaning.
How: Break down the sentences. Delete what you don’t need.
Get Rid of Passive Voice Sentences
Why you do what you do: Your teachers said so. Passive wordings hide insecurities.
Why rewrite passive sentences: Passive voice conceals and creates uneasiness.
How: Figure out who the actor in the sentence is and make it the subject.
Eliminate Ambiguous Weasel Words
Why you do what you do: If you don’t say anything, you can’t be wrong. These words give you an out.
Why go anti-weasel: They make your writing weak. “Generally”, “most”, etc. are not bold enough.
How: Just delete the weasel words. If your sentence is too bold, then replace with the closest strongest and clearest sentence. If there is no close sentence, just delete the whole sentence.
Why you do what you do: You find it sophisticated.
Why get rid of jargon: it makes the reader feel stupid and that would not help you even slightly.
How: Explain in plain English. If you just have to use a technical term then define it first.
Segregate and Warn
Why do you do what you do you don’t do what you should: You don’t want to sound pedantic.
Why use signposts: For anything longer than a page, people want to know what they’re in for.
How: After you begin, include a few short sentences or a numbered list enumerating what to expect from your write up.
Why do you do what you do: Examples come from research, which means work, which makes you want to avoid examples.
Why cite examples: Without examples = dull and not credible
How: Spend time doing research.
Mention Key Insights First
Why do you do what you do: In class you were taught to write deductively.
Why mention key insights in the beginning: A few sentences are all you have to catch the reader’s attention. Mention your point in the beginning and people will stick around to see if you can prove it.
How: Force yourself to start with a bold statement. If you can’t do that, write the warm up paragraph then delete it later.
Use the Pronouns
Why do you do what you do: Talking directly to the reader seems informal to you.
Why use “I”, “We” and “You”: Pronouns can help create a relationship between the writer (“I”), his organization (“we”), and the reader (“you”).
How: Imagine the reader and rewrite you sentences with pronouns.
Use Numbers Effectively
Why do you do what you do: You think numbers, any numbers add credibility. But this is so easily misused.
Why using numbers effectively matters: Statistics can back up your point but, without their sources they are of no use. Instead of writing “It is estimated that” you might as well write “I made this number up”.
How: When citing some numbers include the context, and the sources.
What you write matters, but how you write and why you write are just as important!